Showing posts with label tv. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tv. Show all posts

27 August 2013

Is TV's Golden Age more of a dark ecru?

Bloomberg View | Megan McArdle | Why Is the Golden Age of Television So Dark?

Crime and war are the only two places where the stakes are still life and death, or exile. War has been, um, done to death, and it’s expensive to shoot well. So what makes the perfect television drama for the novelty-seeking sophisticate? A crime drama -- told from the point of view of the criminal
I think this is why high school dramas remain and will remain popular. To adolescents — even the ones who see through the ridiculous facade to the vapidity and impermanence underlying — everything is vitally important. You might realize on some level that who makes the baseball team or who you go to the dance with or how well you do on you History final isn't actually that important, but that's not the way it feels to you. Adolescence gives a story-teller built-in stakes.

I think McArdle is definitely on to something here. Stakes matter a lot. I'd also endorse the end of the 'graph I quoted above:
... often a criminal with a surprisingly ordinary, bourgeois domestic life, which serves to heighten the novelty. Not to mention the dramatic tension offered by a secret life.
I'd add another factor to the explanation though: television's inferiority complex. The TV industry has spent decades as "the idiot box," "the vast wasteland," etc. At best TV has been Film's idiot little brother, and Film itself carried the stigma of being "not really art" into my lifetime. I don't think it's a coincidence that HBO got the modern TV renaissance off the ground and that this was their tagline:

They wanted to distance themselves from TV, the "chewing gum for the mind." Hence the enthusiasm initially for shows which are "gritty," "dark," "morally ambiguous," "ethically uncomfortable," etc.

Throw on top of that the follow-the-leader way that media is developed, and you get an (almost) self-sustaining crop of dark shows.

28 September 2012

The Politics of a "Modern Family" Review -or- Smart People Believe X, Obama is Smart, Therefore Obama Believes X

Esquire: Culture Blog | Anna Peele | Why Modern Family Is So Conventional

The show is like a Zack Morris cell phone disguised as an iPhone in the form of its gay couple, Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet), and the fact that teen sex is acknowledged. It could not be more conventional — there was an episode about a lost puppy! Even Leave It to Beaver would find that crap lame — yet Emmy voters nominated the entire cast and awarded Julie Bowen and Jesse Tyler Ferguson and named the show the best comedy on television.

It's an excuse for Mitt Romney, by virtue of declaring it his favorite show, to let the world know he is just barely tolerant of homosexuals. Barack Obama also pretends it's his favorite, but at least he sees it for what it is: a hyper-traditional sitcom about nuclear families that will connect him to the thirteen million middle Americans who watched the premiere last night.
This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say people project whatever they want to believe about Obama onto him. How does Peele possibly know that "Obama sees is for what it is"? Did this come up in some White House press briefing?*
If it did, then, ummm... ignore the rest of this post.
Was there some interview I missed where he said Modern Family is his favorite show, but wink-wink-nudge-nudge he actually realizes it's "hyper-traditional" (thus uncool) and is only pretending to like it? Am I missing something, or is that just pure assumption pretending to be fact?

Maybe I've been missing some crucial utterances from the Oval Office, but why would Peele conclude Obama only pretends to like Modern Family? How does she leap from "I think Modern Family is conventional masquerading as edgy" to "Obama knows Modern Family is conventional masquerading as edgy"? There's simply no evidence to build that chain of inference. The only way to get from there to here is:
  1. Obama is a habitually blank slate who's gotten tons of mileage from being all things to all people, and
  2. Peele and people like her have become accustomed to projecting their own beliefs onto his vacuous facade.
  3. Therefore, Obama must believe what Peele knows to be true.
This doesn't really matter when it comes to TV, but people do this with everything. "I think marijuana is swell, and I'm sure Obama does too." Ummm, nope. "I support peace and want to bring our troops home, and I'm sure Obama does too." Nope. "I oppose warrant-less wiretapping of Americans, and so does Obama." Not exactly. "I support more open immigration, and Obama does too." Not so much, actually. "I'm against torture, indefinite detention, and assassination, and I'm sure Obama is too." Sadly, no. But hey, who cares about actual actions when you have Hope?


Also, why the hell do periodicals like Esquire feel compelled to drag politics into things like their TV reviews? I stopped reading both Rolling Stone and Wired because they couldn't separate politics from the rest of their content. I have no desire to read what Esquire's staff thinks about elections, because (a) they aren't particularly sharp when it comes to politics, (b) they're largely innumerate and so anything they say remotely touching on economics is useless, and (c) they're openly disdainful of my views. Stick to your knitting, Esq., or you'll loose at least one more subscriber.


PS. I just reread the second 'graph I quoted above, and I'm now even more confused. Peele is criticizing Romney for cynically claiming to like Modern Family, but then in the very next sentence praises Obama for only liking Modern Family cynically. This is why Obama will win. It does not matter what he does or says. He can say and do exactly the same things Romney does (which he will do, depressingly often) but his supporters will love him for it because he is Cool and Romney is not. Obama was elected in 2008 because he was Cool. That has not changed since then, so he will be re-elected in 2012.

14 September 2012

Coo-coo ca-cha! Coo-coo ca-cha!

Speaking of art, can I draw your attention to this masterpiece from Etsy seller sleepybowie?

Too brilliant for words.

Unfortunately all of the space in Villa SB7 reserved for pop-culture-related original artwork is already allocated to Big Lebowski pieces, otherwise one of these would be on it's way to my place already.

(HT Mrs SB7)

08 August 2012

NBC Olympics Critique

The Sports Economist | Brian Goff | Olympic Stew

The nightly prime time coverage is hard to figure. It’s part “Today Show” with extensive “special interest” segments and interviews. In fact, the last few nights, the first hour has been dominated by this. Ok, I get the idea that they aren’t directing the coverage toward sports junkies. They show a ton of gymnastics and swimming — I get that also in terms of demographic targets. The focus tends to be on U.S. athletes and select others (especially British athletes). Obvious enough. Lots of women’s beach volleyball — more than obvious. However, they show only the final lap of the 10,000 meters (and a few seconds afterward) of an exciting last few laps of the race in which a highly popular Brit (Mo Farrah) wins gold and Galen Rupp (who trains with him) wins the first US men’s medal in the event since 1964. They show about 10 throws from the men’s shot put with Bronze medalist Reese Hoffa from the U.S. Alright, these decisions seem to fit with the whole “Today” show vibe, but, in contrast, NBC airs practically every prelim heat for the 100, 400, 400 hurdles, 1500 along with almost every prelim heat in swimming with a U.S. swimmer.
Agreed, 100%.

The tape-delay thing I don't mind. In fact, I'm surprised that's still a complaint. That's the way it's been in every Olympics I can remember (except Atlanta, for obvious reasons).

Here are my complaints:

∞ NBC does a poor job of telling me what event is going on, especially in Track and Swimming. Is it that hard to put up "400m quarter final" or "100m Butterfly Prelim" on the screen, especially before they start? Swimmers getting ready for each race look the same; how am I supposed to know what they're getting ready for?

"Oh look, fencing. Saber, épée, or foil?" "I don't know." "Oh, boxing is on. What weight class?" "I don't know." "Are they lining up for the 100 or the 110 hurdles?" "I don't know."

∞ I don't care for Tom Hammond. There is no larger point here; I simply wanted to mention that.

∞ When you watch Sports Center they manage to make a complete narrative out of everything they cover. Even if it's 45 seconds of coverage of a baseball game, they give you story. For the events NBC barely covers, they don't bother to give you narrative. It's just one woman (the American, always) doing one long jump, and then they tell you how she finished, and that's it.

If that event happened eight hours ago you can have someone edit it into something worth watching, even if it is just for 90 seconds. Tape delay gives them so much freedom to craft stories out of these events, and they don't seem to be bothering. Ennis winning the Heptathlon seemed like a fascinating story. Why did I only get to see the final event of the seven?

∞ Also, if you're delaying things anyway, why are you showing the highest profile events (*ahem* the men's 100m sprint *ahem*) at 11:30pm? If you're taking the liberty of putting whatever on whenever, why are you saving so much good stuff for midnight? Yes, yes, I know they're trying to keep me on the hook all night, but come on...

∞ Delayed coverage is fine, but you need to get everyone on board with that. You can't run promos for tomorrow's Today Show interview with gold medalist Smith if you aren't showing Smith competing for another two hours. You can't have cycling commentators talking about who won medals in rowing earlier that morning if rowing isn't going to be televised until after cycling.

∞ I've decided I have far less interest in team sports in the Olympics. For one thing, they emphasize the Nationalism aspect rather than the mano-a-mano aspect,*
I'm less interested in "Our Best vs Their Best" than I am in "The Best vs The Best."
but mainly they just take too damn long to televise. I'm not interested in seeing two hours of a single preliminary water polo match, followed by 5 minutes of kayaking finals, followed by 30 seconds of triple jump recap.

∞ If you're going to soak up hours of your primetime coverage doing "Today Show" type stuff, like recapping gymnastics from 16 years ago instead of showing current events, then can you at least put some sports coverage on your other channels? Do your Bela Karolyi interview on NBC, but put some Tae Kwon Do on Bravo instead of back-to-back-to-back showings of Starship Troopers.

∞ I thought the coverage of Reese Hoffa was particularly weird. I had seen a big chunk of the shot put live online. In the evening (several hours later) they covered less than a minute of it, then did a little "we'll get back to the shot put action later to see the conclusion," then an hour later showed the medalists' final throws. They covered it as if it was something happening in progress when it's no secret it's already done. NBC isn't fooling anybody into thinking that it was live. The whole rest of the coverage, even the announcer's verb tenses, made it clear it was in the past. Just show me two consecutive minutes of coverage rather than doing a little song-and-dance as if this is breaking news.

(Hoffa's shot put wasn't the only event they did this to. I remember high jump got the same treatment.)

∞ Again, this is a small complaint. I've come to peace with the fact that I will not get to see nearly as much coverage of Field events as I would like. I'll accept the air time scraps they give to throwing and jumping. Fine. I just wish they wouldn't half-ass the few seconds I do actually get.

∞ No, scratch that. I do not yet accept their scanty Track & Field coverage. Not as long as ping-pong is getting air time. Not some ping-pong either. Entire matches. Whole hours of ping-pong coverage. Do you see this over to the right? Do you see Discobolus? That's THE GOD-DAMNED OLYMPICS right there. Why isn't that shit on TV?

∞ I do not understand NBC's coverage (non-coverage, really) of women's soccer. I'm not missing it much, but Mrs SB7 sure is. So many of their other decisions seemed to be aimed at female viewership, so I don't understand them not even showing games in the knock-out round.

Every game, including the finals, is relegated to NBC Sports. Again, I can guess at the potential thinking behind this, but I don't think it's the right call.

∞ The way NBC is treating Twitter and Facebook is so laughable. I can just picture some executive saying "That social media stuff is big these days! The kids love it! We need to compete with that!" and the response they come up with is "Let's read off people's tweets on air!" It is the most superficial way possible to incorporate social media into your business. You're not going to get people to put down their smart phones because you talk about one picture LeBron James put on his Facebook wall.

24 June 2012

I would love to see a boxing match between Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet

That title has almost nothing to do with this post. But it is true. I would pay a lot of money to see that.
NPR: Monkey See | Linda Holmes | Sorkin's 'Newsroom' Is No Place For Optimism

The underlying thesis of The Newsroom is that the problems of TV news – no, the problems of news media – no, the problems of American political life – are really pretty easy to solve. What could turn things around, the story suggests, is one newsman who will look into a camera and speak the objective and easily discernible truth. And, it suggests, the only reason that hasn't happened anywhere (and is thus so revelatory) is that everyone in every media organization in the country is so obtuse that they've never thought of offering objective facts in a civil manner before, and is such a money-grubbing coward that they'd never do it if they did.
That's essentially the same problem I had with Sorkin's West Wing. Many of my conservatives friends think it's biased towards leftism; I think it's biased towards Great Men.* In Sorkinland all of America's problems could be fixed if only the right people were given the reins. This is the antithesis of how I see the problem: it's not who holds the reins, it's that the team they're hitched too is far too large.

Putting your faith in finding just the right people to be in charge is not only juvenile but also dangerous. We need to design systems to work even when the wrong people are in the driver's seat, because sooner or later (it'll be sooner) you always get the wrong people.

I find Sorkin's world deeply disturbing. It's cynical and a fairy-tale all at the same time. In my world there are political divisions because people fundamentally disagree about what is right, and there are structural issues which reinforce those disagreements. In his world there are divisions because everyone is an idiot, and everything could be fixed if everyone who is wrong just shut up and listened to the few Smart People who are right.

I used to think that Sorkin was born several centuries late, that he would have been an excellent playwright creating dramas to boost the egos of courtiers in the Doge's Palace or Versailles. It's too bad, I thought, that he missed his calling putting on plays that flatter the intellectual and political elite about how smart and powerful they are, and how everyone needs their wisdom and guidance. But I just realized something: he didn't miss his chance at all. That's exactly what he does now, except instead of flattering some inbred Bourbons who actually could change history with a proclamation, he's flattering all the people who wish they could do that, all the people who would be courtiers if such still existed.

* I used to think this was in large part a result of general Narrative Bias. Sorkin is telling stories, and stories have a small and finite number of characters, and so a small and finite number of people must be the ones solving all the problems. But then I meditated on The Wire a little more and realized that David Simon well and truly proved that good narratives do not need to fall back on a handful of relevant people around whom the rest of the narrative universe revolves. Fiction, even political fiction, does not need Great Men. Indeed, it is better off without it.

23 March 2012

In which I assert that some stuff is cool

Ars Technica | Ryan Paul | Pirate Bay plans to build aerial server drones with $35 Linux computer

Fact: taking a regular thing and making it into a flying thing is cool.

Let's ignore the moral aspects of piracy for a moment. We can all agree this is awesome, right? File servers that fly? How tomorrow is that? This is the future I've been waiting for. Next I want some unmanned dirigible ISPs and drone quadrotor wifi hotspots.

PS No, I don't care if this is a joke or empty bluster. It's cool.

Musical Tesla Coils | Steve Caton & Eric Goodchild | House of the Rising Sun

I don't have to explain why this is the jams, do I?

(Via KPC)

I Can Has Cheezburger | Otters Who Look Like Benedict Cumberbatch

What's that? You haven't seen Sherlock? Well whose fault is that?

Also: semi-aquatic mammals are cooler than they are given credit for.

∞ Web Urbanist | Steph | Paper Architecture: Intricate 3D Sculptures by Ingrid Siliakus

Things also become cooler when they are made out of paper.

Bng Bng | Cory Doctorow | Scientific calculator in Minecraft

Also cool — making computing machines out of things that shouldn't be computing machines. I'd like to think Turing would be happy with this.

Side note: there is a petition to get Turing on English ten pound note. I would like to see that happen. If you like in the UK please sign this. I really appreciate how British notes often have scientists, engineers and inventors on them. Frankly, I appreciate that they have non-politicians on them.

io9 | Robert Gonzalez | These carefully crafted photo-sculptures look like portals to another world

Simple but very clever. Let's have more novel combinations of photography and sculpture, please.

26 January 2012

This does not make me want to buy your orange juice

You know what really grinds my gears?

Television actors who appear in commercials, clearly playing their current character, but under their own name rather than the character's.

Jane Krakowski is on 30 Rock playing Jenna Maroney, an exceedingly vain, psychotic, easily confused woman.  Krakowski also appears in ads for orange juice as a vain, psychotic, confused woman named Jane Krakowski.

She claims to be endorsing Tropicana as herself, but behaves in the same way that her entirely fictitious character does. This means one of two things is true: either Krakowski's real personality is that of a punishingly narcissistic fool just like her character, or she is pretending to be someone else, and that someone likes Tropicana. Either way that's a terrible endorsement.

Put that aside for a minute. Why would you want your product endorsed by an unlikable character? Yes, Krakowski's Jenna Maroney is a funny sitcom character, but she's not likable. I'm glad she's in the show — as one-note as she is — but there are literally no people in the audience who want to be more like her. None with healthy psychological profiles, anyway. No one is sitting on their couch thinking "I want to be just like Jenna Maroney! I should start by drinking the same juice as her!"

Mindy Kaling does the same thing for frozen meals.

Oddly, Kaling's character on The Office is also vain, stupid and manipulative, like Maroney. Again, that's not a character I would want to associate with myself or my product.

I think half the cast of Modern Family has done the same thing in different commercials, including the gratingly precocious kid, the clueless dad and the Latin bombshell, so this isn't a trend limited to vain bimbos.

I am obviously no genius of marketing, but I can see no reason to do this besides hoping that the punters will make a lizard-brain connection between the product and some face I've seen before in a positive context and stop thinking before they realize they are getting an endorsement from a real person pretending to be a fake person pretending to be their real self, and that the fake person in an asshole. "Buy this because you recognize this person!" is half a step above "Look at this hot chick in a bikini! Buy our stuff!"

16 January 2012

The Angel Hunter

A friend of mine, L.B.D., is doing some PR for a fantasy novel, set partially at my alma mater, and asked if I would like to review it. This isn't something I've ever done before, but I feel like a real professional, getting a free promo copy and everything. Since writing a proper book review isn't something I've ever tried before, I'm going to go about this the best way I know how, which you might see as off-the-cuff rambling, but I prefer to think of as a non-linear collection of thoughts. Here goes nothing.

• The book is J.A. Leary's The Angel Hunter. The main character is a young, windowed business executive whose infant twins are kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. It becomes clear that she, and her offspring, have a particular destiny. She struggles to recover her children, with the help of a modern day alchemist/archeologist/mad scientist, while trying to outwit two different secret organizations and a skeptical policy force.

There is also some corporate espionage, organized crime, a secret cabal of clergy, intelligence organizations, nazis, shadow governments, zombie hitler (well, sort of), the ark of the covenant and other relics, the antichrist, fallen angels, occult wisdom, and what I can only describe as computational astrology. Oh, and a landmark on the Notre Dame campus is actually a cosmic gateway.

• If this seems like a lot, it is. The Angel Hunter has lots and lots of ideas. Which is great!

But I can't help but think this book would have benefited a lot from paring these different subplots down. Indiana Jones tracked down the Ark of the Covenant and fought off Nazis. He wasn't also trying to find the Image of Edessa, the Crown of Prester John, and Pope Joan's pontifical knickers all the while keeping the Masons from finding the Philosopher's Stone with the help of the Theban Legion and also escaping from the US Marshals, who are trying to arrest him and the Wandering Jew for insurance fraud.  That would be a little too much.

• The stage has been set for sequels featuring the same main character, so perhaps some of the elements in this book could have been saved for later books. On the other hand, if Leary has used up a dozen or so conspiracies and mysteries and devices already in the first volume, he must have a lot more in the tank for the next volume.

• Advice for all authors of the "everything you know is wrong!" genre of conspiracy/fantasy books: nail the small stuff. I'm not going to believe that the structure of the universe is fundamentally different than I have always been told, or that there is a millennia-old conspiracy revolving around esoteric ancient wisdom, or that secret societies control the world, or that everything the Church has taught us is a lie if the mundane details are off. Incorrect trivialities may be trivial, but they makes it much harder to suspend disbelief.

For example, the main church on Notre Dame's campus is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It is, as the name suggests, a basilica, not a cathedral, as Leary calls it several times. A cathedral is not just a big, important church. It is the seat (literally and figuratively) of a Bishop. Calling Sacred Heart a cathedral hurts your credibility as a story teller and takes me out of the narrative.

I put down Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol over a matter like this. This isn't a surprise; he's notorious for being careless with details.* I could deal with secret chambers under the Capitol, and lost Masonic secrets, and even mental energy affecting the material world. Using "convergence" when he clearly means "emergence" in the middle of a monolog about the properties of emergent systems made me realize there are a ton of better books to be reading right now. You've got to nail the details if I'm going to believe the big lie.

(* Changing details in the service of a story is one thing, but getting things wrong which are irrelevant is just sloppy. See Megan McArdle's similar complaint about the treatment of Washing, DC geography in Homeland.)

• Speaking of small matters, there were a lot of problems with the typography in my copy.

Some caveats: (1) I care way more about typography than most. I keep a spreadsheet of books I've read, and one of the few columns is "type face." (2) IIRC, this was self-published, or at least somewhat so, and that's hard. I get it. I wrote up several hundred pages last quarter, with figures, equations, TOCs, lists of figures, tables, footnotes, appendices, bibliographies, and so on. Typesetting is hard, and requires a lot of work, so errors are bound to creep in. (3) This was a review copy, so perhaps it had not gotten the final proofing yet.

I understand this is hard, and most people don't care as much as I do, but damn it, I do care. Angel Hunter is, primarily, a pulp adventure. (I don't mean that to be dismissive; I love and need some pulp in my diet.) This is the kind of story that asks you to sit back and enjoy, and don't think too hard about how it all works. But that process is thrown out of whack when there are inexplicable line breaks in the middle of paragraphs, or when sections oddly switch from being fully justified to ragged right.

I've looked around, and the process of getting your text ready to print physically is not easy, apparently. I'm judging mostly by the numbers of online tutorials (eg); everything I've written and had printed has gone through an editor. Besides having editorial support, I've also created everything I've written in LaTex, which nicely removes all of the problems I noticed in Angel Hunter. To be sure, it introduces complications of it's own, but you don't have to worry about the leading changing from paragraph to paragraph without you knowing it. It blows my mind that anyone could typeset a book-length text using Word or other WYSWIG editors. Why would people subject themselves to that?

• Maybe I only feel this way because I'm an ND alumnus, but I think the idea of using Notre Dame's campus as a setting is a pretty good one.  I would have liked to see even more of that used.  Most of the stories in this subgenre are very Old World-focused.  It's always Rome and Paris and maybe London or Prague, and maybe somewhere in the Near East like Alexandria, Istanbul or Jerusalem.  And there are very good reasons for that.  Phoenix, Arizona just doesn't seem like the kind of place where occult mysteries are hidden.

But college campuses, especially older (or older-styled) campuses like ND and Princeton and Yale, where practically every building has some story behind it, do seem like the types of places that house mysterious secrets.  And I think Notre Dame is an especially good choice for this because it does have that link, through the Church, back to the Old World.

I could see a fun occult adventure comic being set at ND, with a BPRD-like organization with a secret headquarters in the subbasement of the library.  Somebody get on that.

Foucault's Pendulum, I believe, pointed out that a lot of conspiracy fantasies revolve around the this could be true therefore this is true gambit. ("It's theoretically possible that the Egyptians sailed to Mexico and taught the proto-Mayans how to build pyramids; you can't prove they didn't to my satisfaction; therefore the Egyptians did sail to Mexico, etc.") This is another thing Dan Brown loves to do.

Thankfully, Leary engages in little of this. There was one point however, and I've lost the page number, sadly, where Victoria's mother literally says this. (She can't know that psychological damage definitively didn't cause physical wounds, therefore she concludes that these physical wounds are the result of psychological damage.) It was annoying that Leary would stoop to the can't-prove-it's-false-therefore-it's-true move, but also very amusing that he would do so so explicitly, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was doing it on purpose with a wink and a nudge.

• As I said, there is a lot going on in this book. The theme I found most interesting, however, was the link between divinity and technology. We've all heard Clark's Third Law, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Lev Grossman's The Magician King extends that with the premise that any sufficiency advanced magic is indistinguishable from divinity. I think that continuum from technology to magic to godhood is a very fertile one for authors to explore, and I'm glad to see Leary doing so.

(See also Braak's corollary: "any technology that is distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.")

This was handled a little roughly in Angel Hunter, however. There was a scene in the first act or so which portrays an argument between two archangels. It's a little unclear whether they are traditional angels, that is, divine beings in a heavenly realm, or just beings in another dimension of the physical universe, or beings with extremely high technical mastery, or what. My confusion lasted throughout the book. I wasn't sure what frame I was supposed to be coming at this from. Things clear up somewhat in the climax, during the the descriptions of Purgatory and Hell, but I'm still unclear what Leary's point of view is on this.

Hell, Satan, etc. were described with terms about different energy levels and vibrations and such, apparently wanting me to think of them as physical things, in our universe, describable with the right set of physical laws and constants, just like the world we know. If that's the situation (in the story world, of course) then that materialism demotes God a bit. He might still be the most powerful guy on the playing field, but now we're all on the same, physical, field. If divinity is a matter of mastering the appropriate wave mechanics and harmonics and so forth, the God isn't some sui generis thing, he's just a very good engineer.

But at the same time, Leary's book is quite pro-religious and pro-faith. Victoria's triumph revolves around God as a divine being whose love sustains life itself. So which is it? I think either point of view has the potential to tell a good story, but I'm not sure which one Leary was working from. Is God an ineffable, immaterial being who saves and redeems us, or is he a material thing, open to scientific understanding?

• Does being a super engineer/wizard make you Jehovah, whose loves sustains life, etc.? No, but it might make you pretty close to Mars or Hephaestus or Athena.

• Speaking of divinity and technology being two sides of the same coin, Kenneth Branagh's Thor movie from last year used this device. I thought that was a good way of fitting what are essentially gods into the same world as people like Iron Man. (This is a problem that comic books writers have struggled with, to various degrees and in various dimensions, for a long time.)

For instance, look at the way the art department depicted "The Destroyer." How Hephaestus-ian is this thing? He's straight from the bowels of Mount Etna.

Is he some kind of iron-and-fire demon? Some sort of golem created by a wizard? A nanotech artifact? Who knows?

In Thor's case it doesn't matter. Thor comes right out and says "science and magic are the same thing." That's fine, because no one still worships Thor or Odin, so no one is going to have to reconcile any dissonance if you claim their gods are really aliens with advanced engineering skills. I don't think you can be that coy when you're dealing with a judeo-christian mythology like Angel Hunter does. Especially not when that theology plays a major thematic roll in your story.

• For more on the divinity/technology confluence see Iain M Banks' "Sublimed" and Vernor Vinge's "Transcendent" civilizations in their Culture and Zones of Thought novels, respectively. Note that even the names given to these societies use words usually associated with religion or mysticism. This theme isn't that deeply explored by either writer, but it's definitely there.

• This is only tangentially related, but this recent piece in the International Herald Tribune touches on the overlap between religion and science outside of fictional narratives, specifically whether CERN and General Relativity "prove" the Quran is right.  It all sounds like those "proofs" that people like Athanasius Kircher cooked up during the Counter Reformation.

• I think we can evaluate Art on two different dimensions. One is more academic, and perhaps more objective. Did this film make good use of editing? Is this photograph under- or over-exposed? Is this character a fully-fleshed-out person? Are the stakes appropriate and properly motivated?

The other dimension is more personal, and consists of only one question: Do I want more of this?

(Don't take this too literally. I wish there were more Casablanca, because I believe it is a perfect movie. But I do not actually want their to be more scenes in it, or for it to have a sequel. Intellectually, I do not want there to be more of it. But some sub-rational part of me wants to continue experiencing it over and over and over again, and so the answer to "do I want more of this?" is entirely affirmative.)

Typically my answer to this question is pretty open-and-shut: I'm either interested in more, or I'm not. With Angel Hunter I'm sort of in-between. While I physically had the book in my hand, I wanted to keep reading, check out one more chapter, and stay up a little later to keep going. But when I put the book down I didn't have a ton of desire to pick it back up.

The only other thing I can think of having the same experience with is the third and fourth seasons of Sons of Anarchy. When I'm watching a particular episode, I really want to keep watching until it's over. But somehow between episodes I'm not compelled to start up the next one.

I think with both Angel Hunter and SoA the problem is too many plot threads. If Leary had half as many mysteries to unravel I probably would have been more interested in getting back to the book to find out what the deal was. If the Sons had only two or three enemies to fight or internal disputes to resolve each one would be seem more important.  As is almost every character has their own little drama, and I'm not that interested in any of them.

Part of the problem might be that the profusion of mysteries, combined with the small errors mentioned above, made it hard for me to believe that returning to the book would get me any answers.

• Another possibility is that individual scenes seem well written, even if the structure of the book as a whole doesn't hang together as well. I'll refer you to the memo David Mamet sent to his writing staff on The Unit:
But note: the audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn't, I wouldn't. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned to watch drama.

Question: what is drama? Drama, again, is the quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific, acute goal.

We, the writers, must ask ourselves of every scene these three questions.
1) Who wants what?
2) What happens if [she doesn't] get it?
3) Why now?

[...] Every scene must be dramatic. That means: the main character must have a simple, straightforward, pressing need which impels him or her to show up in the scene. This need is why they came. It is that the scene is about. Their attempt to get this need met will lead, at the end of the scene, to failure -- this is how the scene is over. It, this failure, will, then, of necessity, propel us into the next scene. All these attempts, taken together, will, over the course of the episode, constitute the plot.
Some of the more fantastic elements of Angel Hunter do get a little informational, for instance when the Mad Scientist is explaining his discoveries. But on the whole the scenes do tend to make it very clear who wants what and why, they get foiled, and then they move on to the next attempt.

• When LBD approached me about reviewing this, she said she knows I like to read fantasy. My first reaction was "no, I don't."

But then I realized, wait, yes I do. I've just never thought of myself as a fantasy reader.

I read a lot of Sci-Fi, always have. I think I never thought of myself as a fantasy reader because I never got into any of the big, "High Fantasy," Tolkienesque swords-and-wizards-and-dragons-and-dwarves epics. (Well, besides, Lord of the Rings itself, which I've read several times and will always hold a special place in my heart as the first "adult" book I remember reading back in elementary school.)

But I've realized that, besides Lord of the Rings, I loved Narnia as a kid, the Earthsea books are the stories I would most like to see turned into a good movie, The Magicians was the best novel I read this year, Discworld is great, and many of the comics I love, like Fables and Hellboy, are unquestionably fantasy. So yes, I guess I like to read fantasy. Thank you to LBD for helping me to realize that.

• Conclusion: if you're in to this genre of books, Angel Hunter will make a decent beach read sort of book.  It's something you should be able to sit down, switch off, and enjoy, with a fast pace and lots of different elements to keep you on your toes.  There are plenty of interesting ideas at play, though the execution is unpolished.  I'm interested to see if future volumes smooth out some of that rookie roughness, and if there will be the same wild profusion of ideas shown here.

My biggest complaint is that there are too many elements, in fact.  Fewer subplots and devices, each given a little more attention, would make for a stronger story.  Personally, I would have liked a clearer view on the metaphysics of the world to help me get situated as well.

21 December 2011

Digest: 21 Dec '11

This batch of links and excerpts is a bit on the older side. I got it all ready to publish then the new Blogger design ate it (twice), and I didn't get around to reassembling it until now. Apologies.
~ ~ ~ ~

Going to the Mat | Matt Johnson | ATF and Obama Administration have used Fast & Furious to push gun control

Nathan Torkington | Libraries: Where It All Went Wrong

Somebody needs to give a version of this talk to the USPS. (Short version: forget what you used to do. What are you doing right now to create value for users?)

NY Times | Sebastian Thrun | Leave the Driving to the Car, and Reap Benefits in Safety and Mobility

Koushik Dutta | The Unintended Effects of Driverless Cars
And if cars are receiving 20 times more actual use, that would imply that there would be 20 times less cars sold.[1] This is the kind of disruptive change that can reshape the automotive industry. The recent GM/Chrysler bailout may have been for naught.[3]

[3] Of course, car companies realize this. And I can guarantee you, they will lobby against driverless cars.
And yet the first out of the gate with driverless cars will see huge sales. Will car companies be able to effectively collude to keep them off the roads? In every jurisdiction? Once they've been shown to be safe in Singapore, Korea, Germany, Poland, and Sweden (let's say) are there enough lobbyists in all of K Street to keep them out of the US?

Sarasota Herald Tribune | Anthony Cormier & Matthew Doig | Unfit for Duty: How Florida's problem officers remain on the job
Part 2: Despite ‘moral character violations' — allegations of violence, drugs, theft and forcible sex — Florida officers keep their badges

[...] Even those officers with multiple offenses have been given chance after chance through a disciplinary system that has been reshaped in their favor by the state's politically influential police unions. As a result, officers around Florida carry personnel files that are anything but heroic.

Corrections officer Kurt Stout, already dogged by allegations he groped and had sex with prisoners, was arrested on allegations he raped two teenage girls. Nick Viaggio capped a string of violent outbursts at the Ocala Police Department by attacking his girlfriend in a crowded nightclub until bouncers dragged him away. Palm Beach County deputy Craig Knowles-Hiller, under investigation for sleeping with a 14-year old, had to explain why the girl's DNA was found on one of his sex toys.

In each case, state law enforcement officials let the men keep their badges.
(1) Where's Dexter Morgan when you need him?

(2) Do we want people with (potentially deadly) authority over citizens to be held to higher or lower standards than the rest of us? Very simple question, but a lot comes down to that.

The Bluth Company

How dare you, Rick Perry?!
Inside Higher Ed | Steve Kolowich | The Problem Solvers
“I think too much conversation about Khan Academy is about cute little videos," Khan said in an interview last week. “Most of our resources, almost two-thirds of [the staff], are engineers working on the exercises and analytics platform. That, I think, is what we’re most excited about.” [...]

Using math and computer science concepts decidedly more advanced than most of those in Khan’s video library, the Khan engineers have trained the website’s exercise platform how to predict, with startling accuracy, how likely it is that a student will correctly answer the next practice problem -- and whether that student will be able to solve the same type of problem a week, two weeks, and a month later.
The birth of quantitative education?

(Side note: has the introduction of quantitative techniques into a discipline ever not been opposed by the current practitioners? Outside of the natural sciences?)

IEEE Spectrum | Warren Toomy | The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix: The classic operating system turns 40, and its progeny abound

The Money Illusion | Scott Sumner | Two anecdotes and a complaint

(About unemployment insurance. His fourth point is the most interesting.)

18 November 2011

This will be ... Arrested Development

The Daily What | Breaking Arrested Development News of the Day

It’s official: The Bluths are coming back. Netflix, in partnership with 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine Television, will revive the critically acclaimed show, streaming new episodes to members starting in early 2013.
There is not a font large enough in the world to print the Huzzah I want to publish right now.

03 November 2011

Catching Up

Posting has been light while I completed a big chunk of work, and now that things are lightening up I have mountainous backlog of things to post. Let the tab clearing begin.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Washington City Paper: City Desk | Michael Schaffer | Farewell, Mac

Mac McGarry is finally leaving It's Academic, a (very!) long-running quiz show in the Mid Atlantic. I'm a little surprised he's made it this long; he was beyond venerable a decade ago when I was competing on the show. I wish him all the best.

(BTW the format of It's Ac would be a more challenging test of IBM Watson than Jeopardy, since it allows interruptions, provided the input was provided to Watson at the same speed and pacing as it is to humans.)

The Unbroken Window | wintercow20 | Rich Man Scorn
In any case, imagine that by today no one had ever walked on the moon, and that no one in governments around the world had any ambitions about actually doing it. Now imagine Sergei Brin or some similarly wealthy dude proclaiming, “By the year 2015, I will spend every dollar that I have to in order to ensure that an American walks on the moon.”

What would our response be? Some might be bemused, delighted, strangely intrigued, indifferent, etc. But I would bet that a considerable share of the population (say 20% or more) would be appalled. “How could someone display such an arrogant disregard for their fellow humans!”
Great point. Somehow when we're coerced into spending money on white elephants they're noble endeavors that uplift the human spirit.

The Economist: Prospero | MJ | Money and Beauty: The benefits of early money-laundering
The Medici bank was supreme for almost a century, till its collapse in 1494 when the family was ousted from political power.

The Church deemed it sinful to charge interest on loans, viewing it as profit without labour.
And yet the Papal States were the Medici's single best customers. (Or perhaps that's not an anomaly, but partial cause of the Church's animus towards interest.)
As bankers fretted for their souls, funding religious art began as a form of penance, like spiritual money-laundering. But as revealed in “Medici Money”, Mr Parks’s 2005 book about 15th-century Florence (reviewed by The Economist here), patronage also projected power. Pious frescos were stamped with the patron’s family crest, and the medium was the message: costly paints in gold, cochineal red and lapis blue were conspicuous signs of wealth. Upwardly mobile patrons even appeared in some biblical scenes. In the Ghirlandaio workshop’s “Adoration of the Shepherds with Filippo Strozzi”, for example, a kneeling banker in a mud-brown tunic basks in the infant Christ’s gaze (pictured).
This is no different than what statesman and clergymen demanded from artists they patronized. Private citizens having themselves or their interests promoted through art seems vulgar, but people love the idea of government-funded patronage.

BTW, art-as-penance is one explanation for this phenomenon. Another is the basic ego-boost to the patrons. But another, unmentioned here, is that this serves to signal that private families are willing to take on the cultural care of their cities in a way previously reserved to the state. (These are not mutually exclusive.)

Kevin Karsch | Rendering Synthetic Objects into Legacy Photographs

Wow. Ignore the dry academic title and watch this.

The Gormogons | 'Puter | E.J. Dionne: Wrong Again

When was the last time Dionne wasn't wrong? That's not a rhetorical question. I mean it. When was the last time one of Dionne's column had insightful analysis or informative factual knowledge?

I digress. 'Puter discusses how relabeling "fair" as "economically just" doesn't change the basic notion that they both mean "whatever I think ought to happen."

Watts Up With That? | Anthony Watts | Replicating Al Gore’s Climate 101 video experiment shows that his “high school physics” could never work as advertised

This is my most basic problem with Al Gore. It's not his policy proposals, or his analysis, or his "science." It's that he's willing to lie to lead people to the "right" conclusion. It's one thing to disagree about the appropriate gas tax, it's another to disagree about what Truth means.

Bloomberg | Frank Bass and Timothy R. Homan | Beltway Earnings Make U.S. Capital Richer Than Silicon Valley

Not good. (Although I will add my usualy caveat that the average DC/Federal worker is not the same as the average worker in the private sector or rest of the country in terms of education, experience, job field, etc.)

Remind me again why Occupy Wall Street isn't Occupy Capitol Hill?

The Av Club | Noel Murray | Defending the Matrix sequels

I'm happy to read this. I've always rather liked the sequels. Not as good as the original, but I don't think they deserve the reputation they've gotten. Their biggest flaw is that they were released as two independent movies. If it was one 4.5 hour epic it would have been stronger. (Okay, maybe the single biggest problem is the Wachowskis took all the philosophical uncurrent and made it explicit. That's a problem.)

The AV Club | Nathan Rabin | My World of Flops, Case File #1: Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

I'm also happy to read this because I couldn't stand this show or Sorkin's sanctimonious sermonizing about how important screenwriters are. Insufferably boorish.

Reason: Hit & Run | Peter Suderman | Farm Subsidies II: The Revenge
A few days ago, news reports began to appear suggesting that members of Congress might be nearing a deal to cut tens of billions in planned spending from farm subsidies. [...] But as is so often the case in Washington, the proposed cuts aren't really cuts, at least not if you look at the larger spending picture; instead, they're a form of budgetary sleight of hand, in which Congress makes spending disappear from one program and then hopes no one notices when it reappears later in a different form. [...]
It is a modification of the ACRE program that pays farmers a subsidy when the revenue per acre for a particular crop falls below recent statewide historical averages. Since crop prices are at, or near, all-time record highs [...]
Profit and loss, you knuckle-dragging bandits. Profit AND LOSS! You're trying to outlaw losses for agriculture! Screw you and the combine harvester you rode in on, you spineless rent-seeking (and -granting!) halfwits.

WSJ Opinion | Douglass Schoen | Polling the Occupy Wall Street Crowd
Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence.
As an aside, I'm actually fine with the disobedience/violence stuff. You can either believe violence is occasionally legitimate for political purposes, or you can refuse to celebrate July 4th. I can only imagine what people would have been saying about the Tea Party if 31% of them had said violence is acceptable.
What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.

Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost
No matter the cost? So trade-offs don't exist? Good to know. And to think I was always taught it was those nasty right-wingers who had the black-and-white, detached-from-reality opinions.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Noses

If you haven't seen this yet do yourself a favor.

Rhymes with Cars and Girls | | Occupy Wall Street us an incipient Fascist movement
Let’s run down some of the bullets.
  • Inchoate demands and lack of concrete proposals, justified by declaring that ideology and policies are less important than unity and the act itself of protesting.
  • Emphasis on ‘action’ and organization over reason, deliberation, open debate, democratic institutions.
  • Pedestalization of youth. Young voices (regardless of whether they have anything to say) must be heard, they can’t be wrong, their actions are self-justifying expressions of axiomatically-valid griefs.
  • Scapegoating of a hated subgroup, who don’t count as ‘real’ members of the nation, painted as parasites.
  • Everpresent undercurrent of appropriation; I want what I want because I want it, so give it to me.
I don't think OWS is Fascist so much as it's a mass movement. Fascist, Communist, Nationalist, Religious, Class-based, Race-based, whatever. This is how populist movements always work.

Occupy Herbstreit

Don't miss the "demands"
1. Equal pay for all SEC Quarterbacks
2. Schools may only purchase Fair Trade Gatorade for use on sidelines
3. Guaranteed Bowl appearances regardless of won-loss record
4. Let the mascots unionize
5. All sidelines must be made Segway-accessible so Ralph Friedgen can return to coaching
6. One trillion dollars so the Big East can buy some new teams
7. Free nachos
8. Conferences with numbers in their name must have that many schools in them
9. Open border migration for all Texas high school athletes
10. Must see physical documentation of Dr. Lou’s Phd in Football philosophy
11. Notre Dame’s TV appearances must depend on whether they are a good team
12. Outlaw all strength of schedule reporting agencies (We allowed Boise State to make one demand)
13. Penn State must reveal its secret for keeping Joe Paterno alive

09 October 2011

Digest: 9 Oct 2011

The Economist: Democracy in America | W.W. | When socialism and libertarianism collide: Who's to blame for American health care?
In my preferred version of the story, the woeful American health-care system is the wreckage of a collision between between the left's intense desire to put the finishing touch on the so-called "Second Bill of Rights" and the American majority's vaguely libertarianish hostility to socialist institutions. Liberals have tossed up one legislative Hail Mary after another only to get slapped down by public opinion and settle for half-measures which have led cumulatively to the patchwork absurdity of the status quo. [...]

If I had to lay blame for this mess on any single conviction, it would be the left's insistence that positive rights, such as the putative right of access to decent health-care, are best secured by a comprehensive system of government guarantees and regulatory supervision. This is the belief that, when Democrats try to put it into practice, wrecks repeatedly against the shoals of American public opinion. The problem is not so much the notion that access to health care is a human right—a notion I think most Americans endorse in some form or other—but the distinctively progressive vision of government's maximally extensive role in managing the provision of the entitlement. That is to say, our stupid health-care system cannot be attributed to the influence of the likes of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, neither of whom opposed a universal entitlement to health care. On the contrary, we would have long ago achieved the dream of universal access to decent care had liberals let go of their dream of big government's supervisory role and paid more attention to the likes of Messrs Hayek and Friedmen when they talked about about how to get this sort of thing done.
The division between the state's roll in financing and the state's roll in production and procurement is not appreciated often enough. This also applies in education.

Thought Catalog | Chelsea Fagan | Street Fashion Photography Is Messing With Me
What the hell are these people doing? I’m sorry, but a 50-year-old Asian man wearing a Paul Smith suit, a denim jacket, a mink stole, a Louis Vuitton backpack, Air Force Ones, and shutter shades — WHERE IS HE GOING? Does he work at an accounting firm run by Kanye West and a 10-year-old girl? Is he late for an appointment with Willy Wonka at the World Bank? Seriously, this man had one thing and one thing alone on his agenda that day: Stand awkwardly on the corner of the street, smoke a cigarette, and wait for people to come take his picture.
The Antiplanner | Randal O'Toole | The Density Fallacy

"Some density is good" does not entail "more density is good."

Captain Capitalism | The Bubble and Burst of Ballroom Dancing
And all men, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow will soon realize you don't use attention to get women (that's where indifference, ignorance and lying about your income come in). You use it to reward the nice sweet ones that treat you nice and don't play games and like you for you.
I wish someone had told 14-year-old-SB7 this.

Via Fourth Checkraise

Think Progress | Matthew Yglesias | Copyrights And Creativity
If you’re talking about a very capital-intensive field, then you won’t have any new products unless there are large financial incentives to innovate. But if you’re talking about a field with low needs for capital inputs, then creating the large incentives is less important and strong IP rights are mostly acting as an obstacle to innovation. The rise of digital technology has made it much cheaper than it was before to produce and distribute most kinds of media. The correct policy response is to adopt somewhat weaker intellectual property rights. Instead, we’ve moved in the opposite direction to shore up firms threatened by potentially disruptive technological change. It’s a mistake.
Kids Prefer Cheese | Mike Munger | Every Solvent Country is the Same, But Each Insolvent Country is Insolvent in its Own Way

Reason: Hit & Run | Emily Ekins | Did Those Automaker Bailouts Work?
The variation in perception of bailout efficacy across partisan identification is clearly troubling. This question did not ask about what people expect to result from the policy, but rather their perception of an actual policy outcome. When different political groups consider the same facts and information and come to widely different conclusions, it calls into question how meaningful compromise can be achieved in the political process.
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan (?) said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

Cafe Hayek | Russ Roberts | The Great Stagnation in the UK
Hmm. One percent a year, corrected for inflation isn’t exactly “barely any improvement.” And that may understate the gains if British inflation measures are overstated as they are here in the US. [...]

So the median (worker? occupation?) grew a measly 57 percent in real terms over 30 years. That’s 2% per year. That’s a crisis? That requires radically transforming society? They’re even crazier across the pond than we are here.
What is the actual goal for the Trades Union Congress? What value would what metric need to have for this group to pack up shop after announcing that British workers are doing just fine?

Popehat | Ken | What’s The Law? It’s What University of Wisconsin-Stout Administrators Feel That It Is, On Any Given Day.

This is important.

If I was taking a kid around to college information sessions I would be asking the adminstration what their opinion was about this. (This would likely mortify my child, but college vists are already peak mortification times, so why not?)

Does FIRE release college rankings? They should, or at least do more of this.

Rhymes with Cars & Girls | Sonic Charmer | The Fake Jobs Test

The Big Questions | Steve Landsburg | There He Goes Again

Landsburg planing of Krugman makes my day.

Reason: Hit & Run | Lucy Steigerwald | A Secret Panel Put Anwar al-Awlaki, Others, on Government Kill List

I'm not sure which is more terrifying: American citizens being killed because the POTUS just got it in his head one day to have them offed, or having an entire committee dedicated to figuring out whom to execute. Do you like your despotic proscriptions to have that old-school personal touch, or do you prefer that they have a more 20th century bureaucratic flavor?

Institute for Justice | John E. Kramer | IJ Challenges “Policing for Profit” in Massachusetts: New Report Documents How Civil Forfeiture Invites Abuse

The Daily What | War On Medicine of the Day
In late June, the Obama administration reversed its policy of leniency toward medical marijuana dispensaries, saying that so-called “pot shops” were subject to prosecution in accordance with federal anti-drug laws.
This was one of very few Obama policies I was happy about during his campaign, but like everything else its turned out to be hot air, abandoned at the earliest convenience. From where I sit, he's followed through on all the promises I didn't want him to keep, and abandoned the few I actually liked.

See also:
The last is the most troubling, because it's not just CA's US Attorneys that think that, it's ... seemingly the entire Administration and most of the Left.

Sidenote: why would anyone at all want to actually run one of these dispensaries? It sounds like the worst possible investment I can imagine. Everything you put into it, both time and money and sweat, could disappear at the drop of a USA's hat.

HuffoPo | Radley Balko | U.S. Drug Policy Would Be Imposed Globally By New House Bill
The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill yesterday that would make it a federal crime for U.S. residents to discuss or plan activities on foreign soil that, if carried out in the U.S., would violate the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) -- even if the planned activities are legal in the countries where they're carried out.
Because our drug policy and law enforcement generally is so rock solid that we ought to start enforcing hypothetical crimes.

Reddit | I Was A Writer's Assistant on Arrested Development

Don't miss the parts about the plans for Lucille II and the Cabin in Season 4.

Investor's Business Daily | John Merline | ObamaCare's Growing List Of Broken Promises

The Weekly Standard | Noemie Emery | Lifestyles of the Rich and Political

Via my buddy JAH

02 October 2011

Thing I do not believe but desperately want to be true of the day

The Daily What | Breaking Arrested Development News of the Day

Breaking Arrested Development News of the Day: Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz, at the New Yorker Festival cast reunion, just announced plans to bring back the critically acclaimed TV series for one more season — ahead of the long-anticipated Arrested Development movie.

The New York Times‘ Dave Itzkoff reports that the new season will be composed of 9-10 “where are they now” episodes, providing context for the film.

Update: I've now seen confirmations from Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, so it looks like this is really happening. The Bluth Company had the best response: "Taste the happy, Michael"

Update 2: Ummm, maybe never mind? Linda Holmes pours out some soberingly cold water on these new announcements.

19 September 2011

Digest: 19 Sep 2011

NFL television broadcast maps from

I'd love to know how these things are determined.

EconLog | Bryan Caplan | Two Questions for People Who Respect the Law

I am with Caplan. Law and morality are completely orthogonal. When I talk to people about this I describe actions as existing in all four cells of two-by-two matrix: legal-moral, legal-immoral, illegal-moral, illegal-immoral. People seem to accept this when I describe it that way (or at least don't have any objection) but still persist in analyzing things as if only legal-moral and illegal-immoral actions exist.

io9 | Cyriaque Lamar | Pranksters add Conan the Barbarian to the faculty of Irish college
He completed his PhD, entitled "To Hear The Lamentation of Their Women: Constructions of Masculinity in Contemporary Zamoran Literature" at UCD and was appointed to the School of English in 2006, after sucessfully decapitating his predecessor during a bloody battle which will long be remembered in legend and song.
The Money Illusion | Scott Sumner | Tax rates on all T-securities now exceed 100%

Spousonomics | Jenny | Economists in Love: Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers
The U.S. has a household-based taxation system which subsidizes married families when one person stays home and taxes most people extra if they choose to marry and both work full-time. The average tax cost of marriage for a dual-income couple is $1,500 annually. [...] Truth is, I find it offensive that the tax man treats me differently according to a very private decision—whether I marry or not.
The family is a really poor unit of analysis. The individual is what matters; that ought to be the basis of our legislation.

This is also an immoral system, IMO, even when couples don't earn similar incomes. Just for different reasons.

Via Scott Sumner, who comments:
By the way, both the Dems and GOP support me and my wife having to pay far more in taxes than Wolfers and his partner–even with identical incomes. It’s not even controversial in Washington. And yet nearly 100% of Americans are outraged when they find out about the marriage penalty. Most don’t even know why it exists, why their reps support it.

Just one more reason why academics should pay no attention to “public opinion” polls. There is no such things as public opinion, there is only election results. No one knows what Americans would believe about Medicare if that sat down with all the government programs and tax revenues in a spreadsheet front of them, and told they had to equate the NPV of all future taxes with the NPV of all future spending. We simply don’t know. And anyone who argues otherwise isn’t thinking deeply enough about the issue.

Whether you want more or less money spent on Medicare, I guarantee that I can frame a poll question that gets the result you want.
I said before that asking people poll questions without having them assess trade-offs is fundamentally irresponsible and dishonest.

Overcoming Bias | Robin Hanson | Are Nations Tribes?
But a great many ill, collapsed, etc. folks in the world are largely left to die, at least if curing them costs anything like a US hospital stay. Ezra argues above for “decent” national care, not global care. And even libertarians wouldn’t leave family members to die. So everyone agrees that we heroically help some, and leave others to die. We only disagree on who falls into which category. [...]

To criticize libertarians effectively, you need to make clear why exactly “we” are a nation, rather than the entire world, or close family and friends.
Once again, individuals matter. Lines on maps do not. "The Nation" has no more moral standing with me than "The Family."

Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | How many unemployed teachers are there?

Reason: Hit & Run | Shikha Dalmia | Social Security is Not a Ponzi Scheme, Mr. Perry

"It is much worse."

Popehat | Ken | Complain About Being Sexually Assaulted By A TSA Thug? THEY’LL SUE!

I don't think I've called for rope in over a year. I'm not saying this thug ought to swing, but if there's something to make me consider it, it would be using your authority to publicly sexually assault someone who criticizes you and then have the temerity to sue them for calling you out on it.

EconLog | Bryan Caplan | Reflections on Rod Long's "Libertarian Three-Step Program"

Further consideration of the Wolf Blitzer / Ron Paul exchange.

If I am allowed to include bad luck then I can always craft a hypothetical which will make any ideology or government policy look bad at first glance. Especially in a situation like this (a contemporary televised, presidential "debate") which is specifically designed to favor the seen over the unseen.

"Aha! But your policy will have some bad consequences for some unlucky people who we know ex post made the wrong decision!" is about the lamest criticism I can think of.

Votes must learn to accept that there will always be bad luck, that there will always be unfortunate outcomes, that there will always be consequences to decisions, and that policies can attempt to insulate us from bad consequences, but they can never be eliminated.


The Thinker | Jeffrey Ellis | A Comedy of Asshats

Sarah Grunfeld is a jerk. There are two rules of polite discourse: don't give offense unnecessarily, and don't take offense unnecessarily. The second is usually ignored, but it is equally important.

17 September 2011

College Football Saturday

Something for you to read during commercial breaks and halftime:
The Atlantic | Taylor Branch | The Shame of College Sports

A litany of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant front-page news. We profess outrage each time we learn that yet another student-athlete has been taking money under the table. But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves. Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletes—and reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.
I don't think I'm going to like the perspective of a civil-rights historian framing this with a lens of oppression, but it looks like it has good information based on the excerpt I saw.

I think my feelings about the NCAA are about the same ones I have about the United States. I love my country, and hate my government; I love college athletics, and hate the NCAA.

Two highlights from that excerpt:
Amazingly in retrospect, most colleges and marketing experts considered the advent of television a dire threat to sports [in 1951]. Studies found that broadcasts reduced live attendance, and therefore gate receipts, because some customers preferred to watch at home for free. Nobody could yet imagine the revenue bonanza that television represented.
Just keep that in mind when people tell you the internet is going to destroy whatever business they have interests in. Or when anyone complains about any impending economic dynamism, for that matter.
With clunky new TV sets proliferating, the 1951 NCAA convention voted 161–7 to outlaw televised games except for a specific few licensed by the NCAA staff. All but two schools quickly complied. The University of Pennsylvania and Notre Dame protested the order to break contracts for home-game television broadcasts, claiming the right to make their own decisions.
How did I get through four years of Notre Dame without ever hearing of this? I must have had several hundred conversations about ND football TV contracts, and as many more about the NCAA generally. I want to know more about this.

It is now time to go turn on College GameDay.  G'Irish.

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Via Skip Sauer. Which actually reminds me, my friend Skipper (different guy completely) pointed out a couple of days ago that the entirety of Rudy is available on YouTube now. If the ND/MSU game gets too depressing I may have to watch that instead. Or I could finish reading "Near-Saddle-Node Bifurcation Behavior as Dynamics in Working Memory for Goal-Directed Behavior." Both are good options

15 September 2011

Misc: 15 Sep 2011

∞ Washington Examiner: Beltway Confidential | Timothy Carney | Stop coddling Warren Buffett
Buffett Profits from Taxes He Supports

Buffett regularly lobbies for higher estate taxes. He also has repeatedly bought up family businesses forced to sell because the heirs’ death-tax bill exceeded the business’s liquid assets. He owns life insurance companies that rely on the death tax in order to sell their estate-planning businesses.
∞ The Atlantic | Megan McArdle | Solyndra Gets More Scandalous
The reason that [the Solyndra scandal] doesn't look good is not, as some conservatives seem to be dreaming, because it exposes some deep corruption at the heart of the Obama administration. Rather, it exposes how badly these things can go wrong when government bureaucrats are assigned to make political dreams come true with Other Peoples' Money.

The problem with Solyndra is not George Kaiser. It's the whole concept behind a program which is supposed to enable politically favored technologies, using loan guarantees that look cheap when they're issued, and end up costing us half a billion dollars because we rushed the due diligence to make sure top officials got a good photo op.
The problem isn't that the wrong guy is holding the reins, the problem is that the reins are hitched to too many horses.

∞ Reason: Hit & Run | Jacob Sullum | Judge Posner Fears 'Snooping Around by Reporters and Bloggers' If People Are Allowed to Record the Police

Ummm.... yeah Posner, that's the point. What is he afraid of, citizens finding out what the authorities are doing? That sounds SO HORRIBLE! Next thing you know citizens will be demanding to have speedy and public trials or to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. We can't possibly have that, can we?

Cafe Hayek | Don Boudreaux | Jim Crow 2.0

NY Times | Rachel Donadio | Austere Italy? Check the Traffic
Comitini, Italy — With only 960 residents and a handful of roads, this tiny hilltop village in the arid, sulfurous hills of southern Sicily does not appear to have major traffic problems. But that does not prevent it from having one full-time traffic officer — and eight auxiliaries.

The auxiliaries, who earn a respectable 800 euros a month, or $1,100, to work 20 hours a week, are among about 64 Comitini residents employed by the town, the product of an entrenched jobs-for-votes system pervasive in Italian politics at all levels
Question: did ambitious people like my grandfather's family high-tail it out of southern Italy because it was this dysfunctional then, or is it this dysfunctional now because ambitious people got the hell out of Dodge a century ago?


Tate Shots | Tate at the Venice Biennale 2011

The Money Illusion | Scott Sumner | Does libertarianism mean we have to pay for everything?

The blogger Sumner is responding to is working on fundamentally the wrong level of analysis. (As, to a much lesser degree, is Sumner.) Wait, I take that back. Not wrong, but one which is far less interesting and important IMO. I do not care what the price of water fountains or park benches is. I care how the procedure used set the price of water fountains and park benches is determined.

The Agitator | Radley Balko | Everyone With an Online Dating Profile Could Soon Be a Felon

This is an idea whose badness transcends ideology. This makes no sense in any way other than naked power grab by making it easy to criminalize every citizen.

The Bluth Company | Mister Banana Grabber Tattoo

I am so pleased to live in a world where things this absurd exist

08 August 2011

Some Tabs

By way of Jeffrey Ellis and Don Boudreaux:
“If one of our children grows up to invent a way to move goods and bits of information even more rapidly around the world, we rightly call that ‘progress’; if another child grows up to become a populist politician who advocates raising trade barriers to slow the movement of those same goods and data across borders, we perversely call that ‘progressive.’”

– Dan Griswold, Mad About Trade

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Another quote for you, this one via Arnold Kling:
The "problem" with manufacturing is mainly productivity growth that permits fewer workers to produce more goods. As workers are freed from having to produce common goods and services, total output expands greatly. For example, in 1947, food and clothing were 43 percent of what we consumed; the comparable figure in 2007 was 16 percent. The productive gains were distributed into other industries, notably health care, education, business services and recreation. This is a win for the consumer and for the economy.

– Stephen Rose
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Ideas | David D Freidman | Reality Based Community?

I was struck by a recent post to a NYT blog on the subject of "What Happened to Obama." The author is identified as a psychology professor. His thesis is that Obama should have told a story to the American people that made sense of what happened. [...]

The third and most interesting was the focus on "story." As he put it, "in similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right."

It apparently did not occur to him that reality matters—that if you give the patient the wrong medicine he may die, even if you have a good story about why it is the right medicine.
If I had time I would write a critique of the West Wing using the ideas in this post as a jumping off point, especially this third one.

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Tom Friedman, Private Eye:

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Is one webcomic about punditry not enough for you? SMBC has you covered:

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Some news from my neck of the woods: historical preservationists prohibit Alexandrians from removing their chain-link fences.

(Via The Cranky Professor)